In The Heights movie is the summer hit that will have us all singing and dancing in the streets. It’s perfection and the best stage-to-screen adaption I’ve seen to date. This whole movie is art.
— ScarletJ ⍟ (@whiskynsunshine) June 4, 2021
In The Heights was the first movie I have seen in a movie theatre since March 2020, and it could not have been a better choice.
Overall? I was pleasantly surprised and beyond pleased at how In The Heights exceeded my expectations. As a whole, I love “In The Heights” as a musical. I’ve seen the show as a tour, but never saw it on Broadway. We’re also huge “Hamilton!” fans in this house and stan Lin-Manual Miranda.
However, as we all know, nearly always, something is lost in translation when you take a book, play, or musical and adapt it for the big screen. In this case, not much was lost and most of the changes I think were for the better.
This post contains affiliate links.
In The Heights Review + Major Differences Between Stage and Screen
What works with In The Heights – In The Heights Review
In The Heights is so much more than “we took a well-loved musical and made it into a movie so lots more people could enjoy it.”
The creative team behind the movie production turned a 27-person stage theatrical production into a film with over 120 actors. It was scaled and scaled aptly. The cast—especially the leads—bring the same energy to the screen as they would the stage. Anthony Ramos, in particular, is so magnetic. You can’t help but be drawn to him when he’s performing.
There were several of the larger ensemble numbers—such as “In The Heights,” “When You’re Home,” and “Blackout – In The Heights”—that I wanted to clap for when they were finished; it felt like I was at a Broadway show.
Rearrangement of scenes and songs
In order to keep the movie flowing, the order of some scenes and songs were rearranged and some eliminated altogether (“Inútil” being one, oh the irony). For example, in the stage version, “It Won’t Be Long Now” come before “No Me Diga.”
I’m always a little bummed when some of my favorites disappear but I do understand why and we got a new song, so, yay. At the end of the day, it’s about keeping the flow and telling a cohesive story. And the revised In The Heights Soundtrack is baller.
One of the big surprises that I wasn’t sure I would like right out of the gate, but ended up making the story work well, was the way the story is framed. The movie opens on a beach with Usnavi (Anthony Ramos) telling his story of “Nueva York” to a small group of children.
While the original stage production has nothing like this (though the end results at the end of the stage and movie are the same), Usnavi having a prologue, monologue, and epilogue of sorts with these children is a beautiful way for the audience to have the story told to them and see the story through his eyes. It reinforces that dreamer mentality that Usnavi has throughout the movie, despite the adversity he faces throughout the movie.
We’re here for some representation. New to the movie version, Daniela and Carla are life partners. The gossipy, chatty salon owners played by Daphne Rubin-Vega and Stephanie Beatriz are partners (that wasn’t so in the original, they were written as really close friends) and their gossipy twosome has become a gossipy throuple as joined by Cuca, played by Dascha Polanco (Cuca is a new character created for the movie).
“What was so gratifying to me as a person who is queer is to see this relationship in the film be part of the fabric of the community and to be normal, and be happy and functioning, and part of the quilt they’ve all created,” Beatriz told Playbill, “So much of this film is about where home is and who home is to you. And for Carla, Daniela is home. Wherever Daniela is, that’s where Carla feels at home.”
Valentina (RuPaul’s Drag Race alum) was also one of the cameo appearances in the film.
Songs that didn’t make the cut
Another song that was noticeably absent was “Enough.” However, so was the character who performs it—Camila Rosario, Nina’s mother. In the stage version, Nina has a mother and Kevin has a wife, named Camila. Her role as peacemaker between father and daughter is eliminated in the movie and that’s not entirely a bad thing. Without Camila, the challenges between Kevin and Nina are slightly “easier” (read less time consuming) to resolve and it eliminates another internal dynamic/relationship to conclude.
“Everything I Know” and “Sunrise” while not in the movie as songs, still made the cut in the score in shortened form. Both of these are sung by Nina (and Nina and Benny) in the stage version and relate to her feelings about her relationship with her family, so it makes sense that they would be cut.
A new song
Miranda did write a new song for the movie that plays during the credits. “Home All Summer.” For those who are all up in arms about the new song, it’s not a replacement for the ones that got cut. It’s literally played during the credits only.
Abuela Claudia, the Lottery Ticket, “Hundreds of Stories,” and “96,000”
This is probably the largest diversion from stage to screen—the storyline around Abuela and the lottery ticket. In the stage version, the audience learns pretty swiftly who won the $96,000 from the lottery ticket. Before the Blackout, Abuela sings “Paciencia y Fe,” and tells Usnavi they should split the winnings and he and Sonny should go to the Dominican Republic. Sadly, she passes during the second act and doesn’t make the trip.
In the movie version, we don’t find out until close to the very end of the movie, after Abuela passes, that she was the winning ticket holder. Usnavi is packed and ready to go to the DR and he finds the ticket in a little box in Abuela’s apartment with a note that says “For Usnavi,” her legacy is to help him follow his dream.
Knowing this, the removal of Hundreds of Stories” also makes sense because it talks about what Abuela will do with her $96,000 (which obviously doesn’t fit with the storyline change). “Atencion” was probably eliminated for similar reasons, as it doesn’t fit the new storyline perfectly. This storyline change also impacts the way the audience interprets “Paciencia y Fe.”
In the movie, Abuela sings this number during the blackout. She finds herself singing in a fantasy-inspired subway station reminiscing about all her mother sacrificed so they could come to America, and ends with her walking toward the light as she passes in the apartment.
There are a few places those familiar with the original Broadway Soundtrack of “In The Heights” will notice there have been a few updated lyrics. Sonny drops a reference to John Wick in one number (the first movie didn’t release until 2014).
Another place where lyrics have been updated that just makes sense is one of Benny’s lines in “96,000.” Benny sings “I’ll be a businessman, Richer than Nina’s daddy, Donald Tr@mp and I on the links, And he’s my caddy” in the Broadway version. In the movie, it’s been updated to Tiger Woods. If I need to tell you why our twice-impeached p@ssy-grabbing former president’s name has been removed, this probably isn’t the blog for you.
Who doesn’t love a good cameo?
- As mentioned above, Valentina makes an appearance in the film.
- Christopher Jackson (“Hamilton!,” Moana) appears as the ice cream man and Miranda’s Piragua Man rival.
- “You’ll Be Back” from “Hamilton!” is the hold music on the phone.
- Marc Anthony appears as Sonny’s dead-beat father.
- There’s also a great end-credit cameo, but I don’t want to give away the spoiler.
What doesn’t work with In The Heights – In The Heights Review
There were a few moments in the middle where I felt the movie dragged just a little and I wanted the pace to pick up. That said, the run time of 2 hours and 23 minutes is still about 7 minutes short of the Broadway average run time of 2 hours and 30 minutes. So shorter than the Broadway version, despite the cutting of 5 songs and one supporting character yet the deepening of several other characters’ storylines.
About In The Heights Movie
The creator of “Hamilton” and the director of Crazy Rich Asians invite you to the event of the summer, where the streets are made of music and little dreams become big…In the Heights.
Lights up on Washington Heights…The scent of a cafecito caliente hangs in the air just outside of the 181st Street subway stop, where a kaleidoscope of dreams rallies this vibrant and tight-knit community. At the intersection of it all is the likable, magnetic bodega owner Usnavi (Anthony Ramos), who saves every penny from his daily grind as he hopes, imagines, and sings about a better life.
In the Heights fuses Lin-Manuel Miranda’s kinetic music and lyrics with director Jon M. Chu’s lively and authentic eye for storytelling to capture a world very much of its place, but universal in its experience.
In the Heights stars Anthony Ramos (A Star is Born, Broadway’s “Hamilton”), Corey Hawkins (Straight Outta Compton, BlacKkKlansman), singer/songwriter Leslie Grace, Melissa Barrera (TV’s “Vida”), Olga Merediz (Broadway’s “In the Heights”), Daphne Rubin-Vega (Broadway’s “Rent”), Gregory Diaz IV (Broadway’s “Matilda the Musical”), Stephanie Beatriz (TV’s “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”), Dascha Polanco (TV’s “Orange is the New Black”) and Jimmy Smits (Star Wars films).
Chu is directing the film from a screenplay by Quiara Alegría Hudes; it is based on the musical stage play, with music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda, book by Quiara Alegría Hudes, and concept by Miranda. In the Heights is produced by Miranda and Hudes, together with Scott Sanders, Anthony Bregman, and Mara Jacobs. David Nicksay and Kevin McCormick served as executive producers.
Behind the camera, Chu is reuniting with his Crazy Rich Asians production designer, Nelson Coates, and editor, Myron Kerstein. He is also collaborating with director of photography Alice Brooks (TV’s “The Walking Dead”) and costume designer Mitchell Travers (Eighth Grade). The choreography is by Christopher Scott, who previously teamed with Chu on the award-winning The Legion of Extraordinary Dancers.
In the Heights was filmed in New York, primarily on location in the dynamic community of Washington Heights. It will be distributed worldwide by Warner Bros. Pictures.
In the Heights is now playing in theatres and streaming on HBO Max (only on the Ad-Free plan, streaming in the US only for a limited time).
- Interview with Dave Boyle for House of Ninjas on Netflix - February 21, 2024
- Welcome Home Franklin Interview - February 16, 2024
- Interview Walt Dohrn and Tim Heitz on Trolls Band Together - February 8, 2024